Altered States – Blu-ray Review

“What the hell am I supposed to do while they’re up there fractionating rat’s brains?”

Ken Russell takes you on a trip that will leave you a steaming pile of primordial ooze.  Maybe you’ll just feel that way as the mind-bending director fills the screen with equally hallucinatory images. 

Dr. Edward Jessup (William Hurt) and Arthur Rosenberg (Bob Balaban) have been experimenting with states of consciousness in an isolation tank.  During one of Arthur’s parties Eddie is introduced to Emily (Blair Brown) and its love at first sight.  Soon the two are married but years later their marriage is on the rocks. 

About the time of that dissolution, Eddie travels to Mexico to visit a far flung tribe that has a drug that allows several people to experience the same hallucination.  He brings it back to the university and begins to incorporate it into his isolation experiments.  This will lead to a regression that Edward hopes for enlightenment, but will only bring out the beast in him. 

When we got the latest batch of Warner Blu-ray showed up there were two I was anxious to see.  Outland was the second (more on that in another review), but this one was the first.  I had ventured in to the weird, wild world of Ken Russell before as well as appreciating the sharp satire of Paddy Chayefsky (Network is a prescient favorite).  Chayefsky only wrote one novel and Altered States was it.  He wasn’t happy with the film results and the screenplay is credited to his pseudonym Sidney Aaron. 

I’ve never read the novel, but I don’t think the film is anything to be ashamed of.  Sure, some of Russell’s touches are there – hallucinations of an iguana becoming a naked Brown and she and Hurt dressed to the nines sharing a sorbet against an idyllic and destructive background.  What is at the core of the film is Hurt, in his film debut, unwittingly finding the beast within.  Be careful what you wish for. 

There’s very much of a Jekyll/Hyde connection, in fact one scene of the Neanderthal Hurt bludgeoning a security guard put me much in mind of that film (the Frederick March makeup didn’t hurt).  I seem to recall reading that Russell’s original cut was upwards of three hours. 

It does seem to end rather quickly as is.  What’s most disappointing is that there isn’t anything close to a special feature.  I would imagine that some film historian would’ve enlightened us with such sales, but alas there’s only a trailer.  The print looked fantastic to me, although the effects may not have aged all that well.   It’s still a interesting film that promotes thoughts as well as shocks. 

Altered States is presented in a 1080p transfer (1.85:1).  Special features are relegated to the 2 minute theatrical trailer.  Although it is in high definition, it’s disappointing that a film with such a storied production history is given nothing but a trailer. 

Altered States makes its debut on high definition and looks great.  The effects may show some seams but the plotline is an interesting one.  There may be some intellegentisa speak as our more pompous characters reflect on mankind, but at the core we may all be beasts wanting to eat a goat. 

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Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.